How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau
Weight loss plateaus are hurdles, not a full stop. Learn how to get past them and keep losing weight.
You lost some weight—maybe a lot—through hard work and dedication. You feel proud of your accomplishment and may have treated yourself to slimmer jeans, bold print (not just black!) leggings, or a form-fitting tank to showcase that trimmer bod. Only now, a few weeks later, the scale won't budge.
What gives? Chances are you're going through a weight loss plateau.
Not to worry. This can be common on a weight loss journey.
What You’ll Learn About Weight Loss Plateaus
- A weight loss plateau occurs when you stop losing weight, despite continuing with your same daily habits.
- A weight loss plateau can happen to anyone and is a normal part of the weight loss process.
- Strategies for getting past a weight loss plateau include: diet, hydration, exercise, sleep hygiene, and stress management.
How Do You Know If You've Hit a Weight Loss Plateau?
A weight loss plateau occurs when you stop losing weight, despite continuing with your same daily habits.
Signs you've hit a weight loss plateau? Nothing's changed with your diet or exercise habits, but suddenly your weight isn't moving.
A weight loss plateau can happen to anyone. It doesn't matter how much weight you've lost or how long you've been on your journey. It's a normal part of the weight loss process.
While frustrating, a plateau doesn't mean you've failed, or all your progress has been lost.
Weight Loss Plateau Myths (and Facts)
Like anything with weight loss, there are a lot of myths and misinformation about weight loss plateaus. Before we jump into how to address your plateau, here are some of the most common misconceptions:
Myth 1: You hit a weight loss plateau because you're not working out hard enough.
Fact: Exercise is essential for many reasons, but diet primarily dictates weight loss. While exercise can help increase your calorie burn and help you lose weight, it's not as effective as reducing your caloric intake.
Myth 2: If you've hit a plateau, you can't lose more weight.
Fact: A plateau doesn't mean you can't lose any more weight. It just means you need to make some adjustments to keep seeing results.
Myth 3: You need to eat less and exercise more to lose weight.
Fact: As we've already discussed, eating less is not always the answer. If you're already at a calorie deficit and not seeing results, further decreasing your caloric intake will likely stall your progress.
Myth 4: If you don't lose weight in a specified period, you've failed.
Fact: Weight loss is not a linear process. There will be times when you lose weight quickly and times when you lose weight slowly—it's a long-term game.
Eating Tips to Break a Weight Loss Plateau
Sometimes what you eat is just as important as how much you eat.
For example, if you experience a weight loss plateau at 1200 calories (which is a fairly low amount of calories for most people), it may be that you need to focus on macronutrients or other components of a healthy diet.
Here are six things to consider if you are trying to break a weight loss plateau:
1. Eat More Protein.
Bump your protein intake to 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight, spread out in 20–30 grams per meal. Research suggests that this amount of protein helps with appetite and body weight management.6
A randomized controlled trial found that a higher-protein diet (25% protein, 30% fat, 45% carbs) significantly improved body weight, body mass index, and waist circumference after two months.7
2. Eat More Fiber.
A scientific review of 62 trials found that viscous fiber (a type of fiber that forms a gel in the body) reduced mean body weight and waist circumference, especially for people with metabolic syndrome and diabetes.8
To get more viscous fiber in your diet, eat more plants. Add foods like beans and legumes, flax seeds, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, oats, barley, turnips, and sweet potatoes.
3. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables also contain lots of fiber. Everyone will tell you to eat more fruits and veggies for better health and weight management. It's unanimous nutrition advice.
If you need more validation, a meta-analysis showed that increased intake of fruits and vegetables is a chief contributor to weight loss in women.9
Another study of 80 overweight Brazilian adults revealed that increased dietary fiber from added fruits and vegetables was associated with more significant weight loss.10
Adding vegetables to meals, as sides or starters, and as part of snacks can add bulk and make you feel like you're eating more (a trick called volumetrics). Indeed, you will eat more volume overall but for fewer calories.
4. Control Food Portions.
Eating reasonable portions and remaining mindful of what serving sizes look like can help you avoid overeating.
It might be a tad tedious and require you to wash more dishes, but use a food scale, measuring cups, and spoons to keep yourself honest about how much you eat. Once you are used to seeing what a portion looks like, you don't need to measure every single thing.
One study showed that serving larger portion sizes increased the number of food people ate. Study participants trained to visualize portion sizes ate fewer calories with a greater proportion of lower energy-dense foods (hello volumetrics!).11
5. Track What You Eat.
Another way to keep yourself aware of what you eat and drink: Log it. It keeps you accountable and less likely to mindlessly eat, plus it shows you where you can make improvements.
One study found that people who consistently tracked their food were more likely to lose weight and keep it off.12
6. Drink Water. Lots of It.
We can't live without water. Nearly 60% of our bodies are made up of water. What's more, water may promote weight loss with or without changes to diet and exercise.13 14
Get Past A Keto Diet Weight Loss Plateau
If you find yourself stuck at a weight loss plateau on the keto diet, the same rules apply. Take a look at your macros and calorie intake, and make sure you are actually in ketosis. If not, that could be the issue.
Plus, women on the keto diet may find that they don't lose weight like men. This stems back to differences in hormones. Women are especially sensitive to nutrient scarcity or the lack of specific vitamins and minerals, which can interfere with weight loss.
Keto may work for some people, but it's not the only diet out there. If you don't see results, it may be time to try something else. See our guides to keto and other diets here.
Non-Diet Ways to Jumpstart Weight Loss (Again!)
Diet is the first thing to look at if you have a weight loss plateau, but other habits can help too:
1. Mix Up Your Exercise Routine
It might be time to spice things up with more intensity. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and weight lifting (or strength training) give you the best return on time investment and can help you burn more calories at rest.
Studies show that adding high-intensity intervals that include cardio and strength training supports weight loss, metabolism, and fat burning.15 16
<p style="pro-tip">Mix things up, and try out this 10-minute HIIT routine.</p>
2. Increase NEAT
You can burn more calories each day by increasing the activity you do outside of your scheduled workouts.
Known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), moving and standing more each day can help you burn more calories and even help with blood sugar balance.17
<p style="pro-tip">Micro workouts, walking more, carrying heavy items, taking the stairs, or even chores are easy ways to increase NEAT. Read this guide: ways to increase your NEAT throughout the day.</p>
3. Pay Attention to Your Sleep Habits
Sleep loss can affect the normal functioning of hormones that regulate your appetite and satiety.
One study showed that mean leptin (a hormone that helps you feel full) levels were 19% lower when sleep was restricted to four hours per night for six days.18
Another study found short sleep increased ghrelin (remember, that's the hormone that makes you hungry) and decreased leptin levels.19
No wonder cold pizza, a giant breakfast burrito, or a huge stack of pancakes with bacon appear so appetizing the morning after one too many nightcaps and short, interrupted sleep. The increased ghrelin and decreased leptin levels can cause a mean case of the "eff-its," and your hand could scrape the oversalted bottom of a potato chip bag before you realize it.
<p style="pro-tip">Improving sleep habits isn't always easy; read: Simple Tips for Improving Sleep and Weight Loss Efforts</p>
4. Check Your Blood Sugar Levels
An often overlooked reason people hit a weight loss plateau is because of blood sugar dysregulation. Higher than normal blood sugar and insulin levels can lead to weight gain, cravings, and hunger.
If your blood sugar isn't balanced, it can affect how you feel and function physically as well as impact your metabolism.
One way to check your blood sugar is with a fingerstick glucose meter. But another way to get an idea of your overall blood sugar trends is to use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
<p style="pro-tip">A CGM gives you real-time data about your blood sugar levels, so you know exactly how your body responds to food, stress, exercise, and sleep. Read more about CGMs here.</p>
FAQs About Weight Loss Plateaus
Do Weight Loss Plateaus Go Away On Their Own?
In some cases, a weight loss plateau may resolve itself. If you've only hit a slight snag, continuing your same habits may get you moving in the right direction again. You may even stay at the same weight for a few weeks and then start to lose weight again.
But if weight loss has come to a complete standstill, it's time to take a closer look at your habits and make some changes.
How Long Does a Weight Loss Plateau Last?
There is no one answer to how long a plateau lasts since each person's weight loss journey is different. A weight loss plateau may last for a few weeks or even months.
If you've been holding stable at the same weight for close to a year, you've likely hit weight loss maintenance mode. You may even decide that your original weight loss goal wasn't right for you and that you're happy with your new weight. That's great news!
But if you're not ready to give up on weight loss just yet, you may need to continue to make tweaks to what you're doing now to nudge the scale in the right direction.
Why Do We Experience Weight Loss Plateaus?
Think back to when you first started to lose weight. Something (and likely several things) helped you lose weight in the first place—caloric deficit, increased exercise, eating eggs and greens instead of a fruit-and-juice smoothie for breakfast—all of these intentional changes added up over time to help you drop pounds.
But at a certain point, your weight stopped decreasing even though you were still following the same plan.
So, what happened? It's a complex mix of metabolic and hormonal adaptations that make it harder to lose weight.
Let's dig a little deeper.
How Does Weight Loss Impact Metabolism?
When you lose weight, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) slows down in an effort to protect itself from missing out on nutrients and energy.1
A slower metabolism means you need fewer calories to maintain your body weight. This is a biological safety mechanism to prevent you from starving yourself.
Research also shows that losing weight too quickly by over-restricting calories slows metabolism and may predispose you to pile the pounds back on once you start to eat normally again.2
Massive weight loss may also slow metabolism. A study where participants lost more than one-third of their body weight (primarily from fat mass) noted dramatically slower resting metabolism after losing weight despite exercising and maintaining muscle.3
So what does this mean? As you lose weight, your daily caloric needs drop. But simply eating fewer calories isn't the answer either because eating too little can also impact your metabolic rate.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/metabolic-health-weight-management">weight loss and metabolic health</a>.</p>
Weight Loss Can Alter Your Hunger Hormones
Losing weight can also turn up hormones that make you want to eat more. 1For example, ghrelin, nicknamed the "hunger hormone," can increase with weight loss.4
When your body senses that you're not getting enough energy from food, it responds by increasing hormones like ghrelin that signal your brain to increase your appetite, making it more challenging to stick to a calorie deficit.
Can I Boost My Metabolism?
It's not always possible to significantly increase metabolism, but there are a few ways to limit how much it drops with weight loss.
The primary way? Slow and steady weight loss wins the race.
A meta-analysis found that gradual weight loss significantly preserved resting metabolic rate compared to rapid weight loss. It also showed that gradual weight loss promoted more significant reductions in fat mass and body fat percentage.5
Aim to lose a max of two pounds a week as anything more drastic could signal those unfavorable metabolic shifts.
Why Do I Feel Like I've Lost Weight But Weigh the Same?
While this article discusses weight as a measure of success, it's definitely not the end-all-be-all marker of health.
For example, if you exercise while trying to lose weight, you may gain muscle and lose fat. This means your weight won't necessarily change, but you could notice that your clothes fit differently or that you look leaner and feel stronger.
If you know your body is changing positively, ignore the scale and focus on how you feel instead.
Can a Cheat Day Break a Weight Loss Plateau?
Some people try cycling their calories or doing a "cheat day" where they eat more than usual to break a weight loss plateau.
Allowing yourself a day to enjoy your favorite foods can be helpful for both mental and physical health. It may help you feel less restricted and make it easier to stick to your diet long-term.
But long-lasting weight loss is about finding a way of eating that is actually sustainable, meaning there's room for occasional indulgences that aren't necessarily "cheating" but just part of your diet.
Weight Is Just a Number
Weight loss plateaus can be a vexing part of your journey to a healthier you. Try to view a stall in weight loss as a checkpoint where you recommit to successful habits you've let lag or practice some new strategies.
<p style="pro-tip">One last thought: If the numbers on the scale don't match your goal weight, it might be time to reassess.</p>
How did you forecast your goal weight? Is it realistic? Are you feeling better after losing weight? Are you more fit? Have other health markers improved? Are your clothes fitting better? Do you have more energy and enjoy better moods?
If the answer is yes to these questions, take some time to reassess and remember that weight is only one measurement of health.
If you follow the strategies outlined in this article and continue to maintain versus lose, you may want to discuss your journey with your doctor, a registered dietitian, or a certified health coach. Another set of trained eyes could help you discover if there's a healthy reason your weight loss has stalled, or you could be at a healthy-for-you weight and just haven't realized it yet.
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